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Who is Carles Puigdemont? Why was he arrested in Italy?

Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan Separatist leader was arrested on his way to a conference in Italy on Thursday Night, leading to protests across Barcelona.

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Who is Carles Puigdemont? Why was he arrested in Italy?
STEPHANIE LECOCQ EFE

Hundreds of protestors have gathered outside the Italian consulate in Barcelona after news broke late Thursday night that Catalan independence leader Carles Puigemont had been arrested in Sardinia.

Puigdemont, who currently serves in the European Parliament was in route to a conference when he was detained by the Italian police.

Why was he arrested?

In 2017, several high-level leaders in the Catalan government, including the then-President of the Generalitat de Catalonia Puigdemont, led a referendum asking those in the region to vote on the question of separation from Spain. The referendum took place on 1 October 2017, and about a month before the Spanish government began a police operation called Operation Anubis which aimed to disrupt the planning and execution of the referendum, in part by arresting the leaders.

However, they were unable to uncover the logistical details of the referendum, largely a grassroots effort, and the issue of Catalan independence was brought to the voters. Around forty-three percent of the population voted, with ninety percent supporting independence.

A month after the referendum took place, eight Ministers in the Catalan government and two Catalan activists were arrested for their role in the referendum and related protests. On 17 October 2017, Amnesty International released a statement over the arrest and detention of the two activists, "Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, the presidents, respectively, of the pro-Catalan independence organizations the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Omnium Cultural." In the statement, the organization called on the Spanish government "to drop the charges of sedition and to put an immediate end to their pre-trial detention."

These calls were not heeded and the prisoners remained in jail, untried for the vast majority of their time in prison, until June 2021 when they were pardoned by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

However, Puigdemont fled the country before he could be arrested and has lived in exile since 2017.

Shortly after he left Spain, the Spanish Supreme Court implemented an international extradition order, which was allegedly dropped in 2018. However, on 24 September, Italian authorities detained Puigdemont, leaving a judge to determine whether he will be extradited to Spain or set free.

Complicating matters are the different stories being told by the Spanish justice system and the European Union. While in 2018, the Spanish government dropped the extradition order after two failed attempts to have him sent back to Spain, earlier this year the judiciary took steps to reinstate the order.

The European Union and lawyers representing Puigdemont were under the impression that the order had been lifted, allowing Puigdemont to move freely throughout Europe. However, in light of the arrest, the representatives from the Spanish judiciary have stated that they were not lifted, and are checking to confirm with the European court system. One of the lawyers representing Puigdemont, Gonzalo Boye has accursed the Spanish judiciary of tricking the European General court, and if his allegations prove true, he believes they will have to "face the consequences."

What has been the reaction to the arrest?

Protestors against the extradition have taken to the streets in Barcelona and Girona. This weekend marks the local festival of Barcelona, and protests are planned for Friday evening and Sunday.

In Spain

Right-wing parties in Spain like Vox and the Popular Party (PP), argued that Italy has a legal obligation to extradite Puigdemont and to allow the Spanish justice system to try him. On Twitter, PP President Pablo Casado tweeted his support for Puigdemont to be brought back to Spain because of his part in the referendum and "for his blow constitutional legality." He also argued that Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, who has opened a Table for Diagolgue with Catalan leaders, should make a commitment "respecting the judgment of Justice without pardons to change to stay in power."

At a press conference, President of the Generalitat of Catalonia, Pere Aragonès told the media that after the reactions taken by many, including Pablo Casado, "self-determination is the only solution to the political conflict." Additionally, President Aragonès had made it clear to Prime Minister Sanchez, that this action was taken by the Italian police "doesn't help the negotiation process," as they had "called for the withdrawal of the arrest warrants of Puigdemont and all those politically prosecuted." President Aragonès and his VP will be traveling to Sardina for the court proceedings and to show solidarity with Puigdemont.

In the European Union

Various EU parliamentarians have come out in support of Puigdemont, arguing that the extradition would make a "mockery" of Europan law.

Irish MP, Clare Daly, tweeted that she and her colleagues "will not be standing by while Member States distort the EU to carry out a vendetta against political opponents."

Sardinians, especially those involved in thier own separatist movement have articulated this distress and opposition to the move by the Italian Police. The Presidnet of the leading separatist party in Sardina, Partito Sardo d’Azione, Antonio Moro said: “Sardinians have found it painful to see their land transformed into such an ugly scene, where the Italian police arrested a Catalan on the orders of the Spanish magistrates." 

When is a decision on the extradition expected?

Earlier it was stated that the decision would be made on Friday.

Catalan News reported that Puigdemont would have a hearing on Friday afternoon, after which a decision was expected. They have also reported that it is likely he be released after the court proceeding.